Monthly Archives: March 2016

I agree! ‘Inaugural Ruapehu Writers Festival wildly successful’


Helen Rickerby has just posted a slide show from the Ruapehu Writers Festival. And this:

‘We’re still on a high from the fabulous experience that was the inaugural Ruapehu Writers Festival in Ohakune last weekend. We were pretty sure it would be a fun and worthwhile event, but it exceeded our expectations in every way. Several participants, including Elizabeth Knox and Paula Green, said it was the best festival they’ve ever been to!

From the opening event on Thursday, which was opened with a karakia by Hune Rapana of local iwi Ngati Rangi and was MCed by Johnny Greene, Head of English at Ruapehu College, we started to suspect we were in for something special. As those of you who were there will know, on Friday, as more and more people arrived, we enjoyed session after session of articulate and brilliant ideas and readings. By Friday afternoon, the room we used for most sessions had reached its capacity of 80–100, and the spill-over people were lounging in the hallway or sitting on the deck, listening through the open French doors. Also through open doors we could hear the bubbling of a stream across the road, and a couple of times a day the speakers needed to pause for a few moments while a train went past on the nearby Main Trunk Line.’

For the rest of the piece and the slide show see here.

On reviewing reviewing books

Social media can be a constructive part of life, especially as a writer. I am constantly falling upon articles that illuminate aspects of the book that I am writing. Discovering new voices. Events. Books. Poems. However, like so many people, I loathe the way social media becomes a tawdry and superficial venue to slap anyone who offends.

Eleanor Catton has promoted kindness as a significant factor in a writer’s kit. I heard her discuss this with a bunch of students at The National Library once and I felt it was both daring and apt.

How does kindness work when you are a reviewer? When I posted my riposte to Iain Sharp a few days ago, I was most certainly lacking kindness. I lacked kindness in my appraisal of Nicholas Reid’s ability to review books. I was not motivated by anger, nor revenge on Ian because he delegated me to a train station with dear Graham Beattie (a tireless promoter and ardent fan of NZ books). I laughed out loud in fact. I love train stations. I was motivated by Iain’s blinkered approach to our book world. It felt unhelpful when people are working so hard on a shoe string to make things better. Not that a currency of love suggests we can’t critique book reviewers. I just want a wider view.


We should be able to build criticism that never lets go of the fact we are all human beings who think and feel. We should be able to communicate with respect. Anything less seems to be self-serving; promoting the ego of the attacker.

When I undertook my doctoral thesis, it felt like I was renegotiating a patriarchal paradigm. Century upon century of representing thought in models that were not negotiable.

We have been trained to close read texts and deconstruct. To think about what the text does not do as much as what it does do.

I am fascinated by this persistent attraction to the negative. Yet if you think about it, what a text does not do, is like surrogate grief on the part of the reader. I mourn the lack of detail. I long for more lyricism. I cannot see the link between the cat and the moon. Fair enough. Poems establish all manner of bridges that some of us are unable to cross.

As a reviewer on this blog I am not interested in what a poem does not do. I am not interested in hunting for what I might deem as its potential failings. This bores me. It is not part of my health regime.

Instead I am interested in plunging, head and heart together, into the unknown. Where will I be lead? What will I discover about what this poem does. I might sing out when a poem catches hold of me, but I don’t carry a subjective yardstick to measure quality.

I never forget that the person that wrote the poem might read what I wrote. I want to have the guts to write and be prepared to say it to someone’s face over a glass of wine. It is not what you say but how you say it. Perhaps this is why Bill Manhire has such a good reputation as a ‘teacher’ of creative writer. I just had my first first-hand experience of this recently.

As authors we all react to reviews differently. I read my first review of my first book in a supermarket and was shocked that it was so mean. As I walked past the cornflakes and the frozen peas I made a choice. Reviews would belong to the reviewers.  Not me. I decided I would not take personal attacks personally, I would be able to sit on a panel next to a mean reviewer with extreme comfort. And I do. When the review is erudite, when the reviewer is so clearly engaged with my book on a deep level, I  welcome critical points (Emma Neale a case in point, thank you!). Countless authors do.

However some authors get tipped into varying degrees of depression or inability to write. This matters to me. Yes, we choose to exist in a public arena and therefore must accept public engagement and debate. But I am not sure we have to accept assassinations, minor or major. Historically, and in recent times, there are some despicable examples of this.



What got me more than anything though about Iain’s new-old view on reviewing is the lack of generosity in terms of our wider book world.

In this context, it is a matter of focusing on reviewing platforms (not what publishers, booksellers, authors and readers are trying to achieve to keep things thriving). Against all odds some places are working hard to showcase NZ books.The first and most important aim is to bring books to our attention as readers. I am lucky in that most publishers send me NZ poetry books. How on earth would I know what was going on otherwise? Where does poetry get widespread attention?

I applaud those places that are refusing to sever the cord between reader and NZ books: The Listener (Three cheers), North & South (three cheers!), Metro (not doing what it used to do sadly, but still a tad), The Spin Off (yes!), NZ Books (three cheers), Landfall, Landfall-on-line (again thank you!). I have just agreed to review books for Fairfax  because it will include NZ books (and poetry). Other blogs and websites.

The second aim is to generate avenues into a book for a reader to pursue. To connect book to reader.

The third aim is to foster ideas and debate. Here criticism flourishes. A drive on this blog to explore what poetry is capable of doing.

Finally, my personal aim is to contribute to a vibrant NZ poetry landscape. To find ways to connect poetry, poets and readers. To celebrate what we do here. To be prepared to challenge writing that erodes rather than augments our relations within the world of books. To challenge views that exhibit sexism, racism, classism, regionalism and so on.

To use this blog to be an ambassador for NZ poetry no matter the risks.


On Reviewing Books: Iain Sharp gets lippy

Ha! Iain Sharp has just ranted about reviewing books with no holds barred (well perhaps some! I bet some!) on The Spin Off. It is very easy and such fun to take swipes at the world in such a bolshy manner.

And it is very fitting that as a reviewer I am ‘waving at passing trains’ along with Graham Beattie (does Graham actually review books or mostly post reviews BTW?) as I am just back from the Ruapehu Writers Festival. We all had to stop talking whenever trains went by.


Iain’s favourite reviewer in NZ: the ultra toxic Nicholas Reid. Toxic, not just in view of the personal hits he takes at local authors but in his unfailing ability to miss by a universe what the book is doing. You might get seduced by his smart-alec train of thought but if you dig deeper he so often misses the whole point of a book. Gets feet-tied on the small details.What matters is his ego-driven need to demolish and show off. I find his reviewing intellectually and emotionally lazy. I have stopped reading him.

Yes, some reviewers might prefer reviews that show off a smarty-pants wit and the sharp  blade of the reviewer. Engagement with what the book is actually trying to do seems less of a priority. Such reviews too often demonstrate downright lazy thinking, soporific thought.

The flip side of a reviewer’s personal attack is when authors take criticism of aspects of their book personally!


Poetry Shelf is my site for reviews these days after Canvas has almost shut down its book pages (although I have just started doing a few for Fairfax, including poetry). My main aim on my blog is to review poetry books I have loved to varying degrees. To refresh the whole business of writing poetry. To explore what a book is doing.

Poetry rarely gets its time in media spotlight these days. I am trying to remedy that. To pick up the big names and scour the shadows for the less known.


At the Ruapehu Festival I got to talk about reviewing books with a number of people.Yes we mourn the paucity of NZ book reviews. Yes we learn to duck the hits and keep them in perspective. And yes, most of us welcome a critical review that engages with what our books are doing.

I have an enormous folder of letters and emails from authors that have thanked me for ‘getting’ their book. Quite extraordinary. I am always quite surprised. It is not my role to ‘get‘ their book in terms of their aims, because I want to articulate my own version of what the book is doing. Authors have thanked me for critical points because I don’t swipe the carpet from beneath their writing feet. That said, this is a small place and at least one author has been deeply offended by a point I have made. It’s a risky business – it can affect friendships.

Like many reviewers I am not afraid to speak out when a book demands it. My Metro review of AUP’s doorstop of a book on NZ Literature reflected my deep misgivings with its content. It failed on so many levels in terms of its grandiose claim, I needed to speak out. I crossed a line with this review and it affected my place in the literary community. Hundreds of people agreed with what I said, but it was my name on the page attracting the toxic flack on social media. I switched off. Got back to what is important.

This was a case of me potentially hurting other editors. I am not proud of that but I wanted to start a significant debate on what NZ literature stands for. What it embraces. Was I a bully? I hope not. Because that is what reviewers like Nicholas slip into. Being a bully. Smart alecs hurt people. Tip some authors over the edge. I loathe this. Half the time these throw-away claims are based on puff and fluff.

Criticism can be astute. It can be negative or positive but it should not get personal.

David Eggleton is a reviewer I admire enormously. His level of engagement with a book is exemplary. I read his review, relish the ideas, and track the book down in some cases.


YES!  We need to critique our reviewing landscape because at the moment we are poorly served. Without Poetry Shelf, your visibility of new poetry books would be unbearably diminished. I don’t care that Iain Sharp thinks I get up each day and wave at the passing trains of poetry like some witless female trainspotter.

But I do care that he undermines what some people are doing to make a difference against all odds when publishers, authors, booksellers and media are doing their utmost best to keep our communities of books alive.

Harriet Allen’s approach to reviewing books in NZ was an altogether different kettle of fish.


Fiona Farrell moved us at Ruapehu because she showed heart. Heart attached to life. To ideas. To writing. To books. Who didn’t weep?

Iain has handed us a fiery fun argumentative well-written challenging rant but ultimately we are short-changed.

Where is the heart?

The horizons of this rant are strait-jacked.

Where is the heart of NZ reviewing? The heart of NZ books? The ideas and reviewing terrain that sustain and move us.


I can no longer hear the trains, dear Ohakune.










Farewell Rachel Bush, beloved poet


I receive this news with great sadness. I met Rachel for the first time when she read in Nelson as part of my Hot Spot Poetry Tour of Nelson last year. But her poetry caught my attention and held it a number of years ago. My thoughts reach out to friends and family.


from ‘Early’

The darkness wears a quiet sound

of fires died down and people who stir

in sleep. Soon they will slip on

their daily selves, button them up.


A rooster knows the time, says

it out loud when day is less

than a light line above the hills



This from VUP:

It is with great sadness we learned that our good friend Rachel Bush died yesterday. Rachel was a wonderful poet, an astute reader and a warm supporter of other writers. She will be greatly missed. Our thoughts are with her family and close friends.

Thought Horses, Rachel’s newest collection of poetry, will be published in April. We are so pleased that Rachel was well enough to work on her book with editor Ashleigh Young, and that she also got to see and hold her book.

We will be holding a reading and celebration of Rachel at Vic Books on Tuesday 19 April.


As part of the Hot Spot Poetry Tour children interviewed authors. Lucy interviewed Rachel:


Photo credit: Martin de Ruyter


The Interviewer: My name is Lucy and I am 11 years old. I like to write poems and LOVE to read. I go to Mahana school and I am in Year 7.

 The Interview:

Have you always loved to write and from what age?

I have always enjoyed writing, but I don’t know that I have always ‘loved’ it. When I was a bit younger than you, I was a very keen reader of Enid Blyton books and I wrote two rather pallid imitations of her books. In both of them there were four central characters called George, Kath, Alice and Anne – which names are very like those of some of the characters in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books. I was starting to grow my hair at this time and all four characters had long plaits.

At first I wrote more stories than poems. Poems seemed to be what i wanted to write as I got older. I still write stories occasionally.

I kept a diary from when I was thirteen. I don’t exactly keep a diary any more, though sometimes I will write about particular things that have just happened but I do always have at least one notebook on the go and I write something in it most days.

What advice would you give to a writer wanting to publish a book?

I’d encourage anyone who wants to do this to go ahead. There are more opportunities now for publishing than there were when I was a young writer.

I sometimes think publishing is a gradation. At one end is someone whose poems/novels/short stories are hidden away deep in a computer file. When I was younger the equivalent was having them hidden in a bottom drawer, and at the other end is a big fat book like The Luminaries with lots of publicity for the author. A first step to publication might be sharing your writing with another person. Probably the first time I had a poem published was when I had a poem in the school magazine when I was in Year 12.

Computer software make it possible to publish your own work and have it looking very smart and stylish. A poet whose a friend of mine sends out a stylish looking card on his birthday. It’s folded in three and on five sides there’s at least one poem. On the sixth side there’s a little note about it being his birthday. (He also has a book published and has work published in magazines.) Or you can go online and publish your work there.

If you want to have a book published, I suppose you try to get some sort of publishing record first of all – maybe sending things to magazines for instance. This involves a bit of research because you need to be familiar with what sort of thing that particular magazine publishes. What sort of length are the pieces they publish? Are they prose and/or poetry?

If I had a book ready to go I would look hard at different publishing firms and what sorts of things they like to publish. I’d be trying to decide whether my book would fit in with the sort of thing they seem to want to publish.

I’d want to make a manuscript look good with no typos, a good clear plain font, double spaced with wide margin space. It would be easy to find information about this sort of thing online. Some publishers don’t want a hard copy, but prefer to be sent a computer file. Again you need to do some research. So this aspect of writing is more like being your own Personal Assistant and being business-like about trying to get work published.

What is your favourite genre to read?

I don’t have a favourite genre. I try to ready widely.

There’s almost always a book of poems that I’m reading and I keep it by my bed or in my handbag if the book is skinny enough. At present I am still reading Essential New Zealand Poems and I am also reading Horse with Hat by Marty Smith. I’ve also read some of Milton’s poetry, particular a verse drama called Samson Agonistes that for some reason I never got round to reading when I studied Milton as a university student. (Paula — these books aren’t children’s books in case you think they are.

I’m reading a novel too – it’s called Concluding by Henry Green. It first came out when I was 6 years old but of course I didn’t know anything about him then. He was talked about a bit when I was at university but was never in any of the English papers I did.

I love Victorian novels. I read and reread Dickens, Trollope and George Eliot’s books for instance.

I’m enjoying biographies more as I get older.

I’ve read several books from the Old Testament this year.

I like reading good short stories and this year I discovered an excellent writer, Lydia Davis. I also found out that nearly everyone except me had known of her work for years!

So it seems that I can’t really answer this question about my favourite genre but have just meandered around it

If you want to write in a particular genre it’s likely you’ll read that genre. At the same time I sometimes find that the books that really get me writing are a surprise. It’s not necessarily books of modern poetry that make me want to write poems.

Where does your inspiration come from?

I don’t often feel inspired. I try to keep writing and sometimes something unexpected happens and I find I’m writing more easily and confidently than usual. It’s wonderful when that happens.

Things that make me want to write vary.

What I read is often helpful. Sometimes first lines of very good writers make me want to write my own poem almost as a response to theirs. Janet Frame and Anne Carson have done that for me.

Sometimes being under a particular pressure makes me write easily. Which seems strange. Pressure might be a time constraint, like to write something in 20 minutes. Or it might be a set of ‘rules’, like ‘Write a poem that consists entirely of untrue statements’. I think the hardest thing to do is probably to be told to take as long as you need to write the best poem you possibly can about whatever you think is important. If there are constraints you can always blame them if your poem isn’t as terrific as you would have liked it to be.

Walking helps me to write. I’m pretty sure Fiona Farrell has written about how how walking helps her to write.

Glenn Colquhoun says something somewhere (I’m sorry I can’t be more precise), about writing being best when you write about those things you see out of the corner of your eyes. I like that idea. Sometimes it helps to sit with and discover what I’m really preoccupied with and use that in my writing, rather than write what I think I ought to write about.

Do you ever take a break from writing a poem and come back to it?

Yes, I almost always do this.

I mentioned earlier that I always have a notebook. Usually this is where I draft poems and then maybe weeks later I read back over this notebook. Some things I’ve written look a bit feeble but often there’s something I can use and develop further.

After a gap of time, I can often look at a poem a bit more objectively and see what needs doing to it. I would hardly ever send a poem I’ve just written away to a literary magazine because I am so likely to see things I want to change if I look at it after a few weeks.

Do you ever get writers block, if you do how can you get rid of it?

Yes, I suppose sometimes I do feel the opposite from inspired and can’t think how to begin or continue anything.

Sometimes I find that to think of it as being like having a bit of a headache is useful. Okay, it’s there, and I can either retire to bed feeling sorry for myself or just go on doing what I do as best I can. But if I decide I am suffering from Writer’s Block and stop writing then there is no chance of my writing well.

Michael Harlow once said at a workshop that if you write a word another flies to it. That’s mostly true for me. So if I can find a word or a phrase from anywhere and write it down then there is a chance some writing will happen. It may not be very good, but at least its writing.

If I was feeling flat about my writing, I used to return to a book called Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and it helped me to forgive myself for often writing rubbishy, dull stuff. (And it also has some really good suggestions, about daily writing practice that I found useful.)

What is the hardest thing about writing?

I don’t think I can answer this very well. There’s no single thing that is particularly hard for me.

I have learned to accept that alternating between thinking I have just written a Truly Terrific Poem and thinking that I am an Embarrassing Disaster of a Writer who will never manage an even halfway decent poem doesn’t help me at all. I’m gradually realising that nothing I write will change the world and knock its little cotton socks off, but also I’ve come to realise that there’s no need to be ashamed of what I write.

Just keeping going, I guess, is hard. There are lots of other wonderful things to do. How do you balance these different aspects of your life? I’m busy, as most people are busy. I don’t write as much as I would like to write. I also need to work on regularly finishing poems and sending them away to literary magazines.

Sometimes writing can seem a bit lonely. But having a group of people you trust and with whom you can share your writing helps.

Nobody has to be a writer. But when it’s going well it’s good fun and satisfying.

Thanks for a wonderful interview Lucy and Rachel. Rachel has given us all kinds of tips about writing and has shown us the wide range of books she reads as an adult. To be a good writer you do need to keep reading and trying out things as you write — no matter what age you are! Rachel has a lovely poem in A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children called ‘Early.’

Shari Kocher’s The Non-Sequitur of Snow – This book is a little gem



Shari Kocher The Non-Sequitur of Snow  Puncher and Wattmann (Sydney) 2015


So then let the Mountain be.

Let the hush of apples and ladders be as they are.

Let the shoes empty that enter the traffic

and release from its flow

the hush of the halo. Let the hush be

a halo. Let there be mourning any time of day.


from ‘Snowmelt’


This book is a little gem. It is perhaps the first Australian poetry collection I have reviewed on a blog devoted to NZ Books but the borders of my blog are porous.

Reading this book prompts diverse reader responses. You never know what effect the next poem will have upon you and I like that. Nonetheless, there are hinges that unify, that hold the collection in a single embrace.

First the initial impact. There is an over-riding sense of simplicity in the spareness on the page, the quietness of voice, the restraint, the vocal elegance. The effect promotes stillness, contemplation, slowness of reading. At this leisurely pace, there is an opportunity for an exquisite absorption of detail.

And then simplicity gives way to complexity, richness, relations, strangeness. Contemplation skews and slants as you shift between the real and the dream-like real. Flavoursome nouns salivate upon the tongue. Recollection is filtered through a surreal undertow. You fall upon the child, the lover, the family, the mother, the sister. Angels, apples, ladders, snow.


crowded in drawers or leaning

precariously by the sink

their metal mouths

pursed and shrinking

the way my mother shrank from us

as if each child that swelled inside her

gouged her out a little more


from ‘Spoons’



Complexity gives way to a poetry echo chamber where words and phrases are picked up from one poem to the next like little loose stitches and rendered in a slightly different pattern. Faint echos that feed into the book’s predilection to repeat. Some poems play with form and smudged repeating lines like offvillanelles. That repetition is comforting. Sometimes it is just a word such as ‘let’ that resonates like the drip of snow melt.

So many poems to love but I especially loved ‘A Letter to Dorthy Hewett’ where Shari pays tribute to the Australian poet she loved at the news of her death. She draws her into the space of her living and writing and talks. That talk drags me into the heart of poetry.

Here are the first and last stanzas:


I’d always imagined

I’d meet you one day

nothing spectacular

just two women

going along the path

in a parallel world …




stripping me bare

they shout aloud

in tongues that flare

the skin around my bones

bidding me, as Lazarus was bid,

to get up and go outside

to keep on loving, and to live.


You will have to track down this utterly gorgeous read and find the missing pieces. It is worth the hunt! After several decades of writing poems, Shari’s debut collection is one to celebrate.


Dinah Hawken to open WORDSONGS

I seem to have been a roving poetry reporter these past few weeks but time to shut the hatches and stay at home. This event will be good – I judge this on my experience of hearing Hannah sing Bill at the AWF a few years ago. Transcendental experience.

I urge you to check this poetry event out and would love a wee response from a poetry patron to post on the blog.


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Tickets $20 from Eventfinder or Darcey’s Fruit Shop.  Limited door sales at $25.

QUERIES: Gilbert Haisman.  Tel 04 904 8428 or 022 0122 103. Email:

Why I loved the Ruapehu Writers Festival


‘Memoir is a place to illuminate, not seek revenge.’ Elizabeth Knox

‘The Villa is a book of 100 tiny pieces. That’s how my brain was. Everything had fallen to pieces. I was writing in a state of shock.’ Fiona Farrell

‘I am a product of socialism and feminism.’ Fiona Farrell

‘We are not just a who or a what we are also a here.’ Martin Edmond

‘Archives are as questionable as memory.’ Martin Edmond

‘Poems have tended to ambush me every few decades.’ Fiona Kidman


[ I   k e e p   r e m e m b e r i n g

t h i n g s  a n d    a d d i n g     b i t s]


Yesterday there was a flurry of writers on social media suggesting the Ruapehu Writers Festival was the best festival ever. I have loved the richness and discoveries of so many other festivals, along with the family warmth of Going West. Yet this festival was special. The best ever.

The setting: The mountain to the north loomed large out of clouds, and on some days into bright blue sky. The mountain stream babbled past like a soothing mountain soundtrack. The trains punctuated sessions and we all stopped and listened to the comforting sound of travel.

The writers: The writers came from far and wide (Martin Edmond, Fiona Farrell). Bigger publishers were represented (Penguin Random House, Auckland University Press, Victoria University Press) and so too were the boutique Presses (Seraph Press, Anahera Press, Mākaro Press, Cat & Spaghetti Press, Hue & Cry – to name a few).


The sessions: Not a single dud. Just smorgasbord of highlights. I do want to pick out a couple of presentations that struck a chord with me.

Merrilyn George shared Ohakune stories with Martin Edmond. Wow! I wish the whole country could have squeezed in to hear the way the local matters. Has mattered, does matter and will matter. It was Martin’s session too, but he let Merrilyn take centre stage with his little anecdotal prompts.

The fluency of my good friend Sue Orr when she got talking about place as character.

Three writers musing on the Desert Road: Fiona Kidman, Ingrid Horrocks and Fergus Barrowman (standing in for Nigel Cox). The conversation just flowed and the extracts were riveting. I have tracked down Ingrid’s essay, ‘A Small Town Event,’ in Sport 43. The sample stuck with me so I need to read the whole thing.

Elizabeth Knox‘s festival lecture, ‘On Doubt, Doubtingly,’  explored the implications and means of building memoir. Particularly in view of multiple selves, and the multiple reception and behaviour of selves. Elizabeth showed the way ideas can move, stimulate and challenge. Deliciously complicated and moving.

The children who came to my poetry session. Some as a result of my visit to Ohakune Primary School on the Thursday. I had an outstanding time there. This is a school where the teachers have already sown the fertile seeds of poetry. PS Jenny and Laughton Patrick did a great job getting the whole room singing!

Three writers talk on structure: Pip Adams, Emily Perkins and Fiona Farrell. This session got on National Radio because Fiona let her guard down and moved most of us to tears. I thought I was going to start sobbing out loud. Listening to Fiona read from The Villa at the End of the Empire — a book shortlisted in the nonfiction section of the Ockham NZ Book Awards — was extraordinary. Yet the session was this and was more than this. It embraced two other terrific readings and generated a conversation on structure that made me want to get writing.

Six writers read from Extraordinary Elsewhere: Essays on Place from Aotearoa New Zealand (forthcoming VUP). Ashleigh Young‘s detail kept ringing in my ear, along with the moving circularity of Harry Rickett‘s essay and the philosophical nuggets of Martin Edmond (which I tweeted throughout the session).

I was quite taken with the response of Tim Corballis and Thom Conroy (chair) in my session on POV. I just loved the way Tim proposed the leaf on the boy’s shoe acted as a transcendental point of view. Ha! Thom was an excellent chair.

The final session of poets was a perfect way to end. I discovered the poetry of Hannah Mettner and will go hunting for it in issues of Turbine. I loved hearing Fiona Kidman read from her new book (out next week) and Vana Manasiadis from her old. Magnolia Wilson was also a new find off the page (I had loved her foldout poems). A local poet and ex-librarian, Helen Reynolds read her poems in the quietest of quiet voices. We stretched forward, further and further into her reading. It felt like I was bending forward into the end/ear of the festival.


The atmosphere: Warm, intimate, stimulating, generous. The festival had the family flavour of Going West but in a mountain setting. At four thirty each day we spilled into the bar for a glass of wine and platters of gratis nibbles before the final sessions. We shared conversation and that conversation was infused with a common love of books. And an infectious engagement with ideas.

The chance(ish) encounters: Hearing Amy Leigh Wicks read poetry for the first time and having lunch with her. I am itching to write about her poems on the blog. Sitting under the cool of a tree and talking women’s poetry with Sarah Jane Barnett (she was there as reader, as were other writers!). Eating breakfast with the very lovely Fiona Kidman and talking about women’s poetry in the seventies. Meeting a man who lived next to Eileen Duggan but not getting to follow that revelation up (ah! rue!). Drinking coffee with Fiona Farrell and talking about how something in the air or on the page prompted us to let our guard down. Just a tad. Meeting old friends.

The special features: A band of writers cycled back from Horopito Hall with James Brown after hearing a session on cycling and poetry (ok Ashleigh Young where can I read a version of your lost-things poem?). A local kaumatua guided at least forty readers and writers up to a waterfall and back (around two hours). Stacy Gregg led some fans on a horse trek.

The audiences: Most sessions were full to the brim.

The chairs: I especially loved Fergus Barrowman (he did zillions with just the right degree of input), Nick Ascroft (he was hilarious) and Thom Conroy (astute listener!).

The organisers: Anna Jackson, Helen Rickerby and Simon Edmonds built a festival out of nothing yet when I reflect upon this daring, I realise it was out of something. The festival grew out of the hard labour and inventive thinking of these three. It also grew out of the good will these three can harness: from the locals, the venue, the schools, the publishers and the out-of-town readers and writers. It might sound corny but it also grew out of the physical location and its beauty. The festival always bore this mind.

It was really good to hear Anna and Helen read and share ideas. I loved too the way they sat in the front row in every shared and listened so intently. I could see the joy of the occasion on their faces. You don’t usually see festival organisers with freedom to sit in the front row and listen. Yet another sign of what made this occasion special.

Place matters.

I think if I were to ask all writers and readers to join me in a huge pakipaki for Anna, Helen and Simon we would drown out the mountain stream and the passing train. Just for a moment. We are in debt to you. Thank you.


Excuse my phone photos!