Once again the AWF have delivered a gift to readers and writers. I applaud the fact they showcase NZ writers as much as they do those from overseas. I applaud the free sessions (ok I got used to sitting on the floor with my recovering fractured foot rebelling with all that queuing). I applaud the fact they cater for children. I applaud a programme that is so very diverse and that offers moments that shake you apart — that reminds us what is so very important about sustaining a book culture from birth to 100. Books do matter. Conversations about books matter, whether you are reader or writer. I applaud all the writers who were so very generous with their self/ideas/issues/stories/poetry exposures.
Thank you so very much Anne O’Brien and your fabulous team.
Saturday (I booked ended a full day at the festival with short stories and a feminist icon)
The short-story session was a standout event – the exact reason I am prepared to face parking issues, hordes of people, endless queues.
Sue Orr in conversation with Damien Wilkins and Elizabeth McCracken was such a treat. Genius idea to read a short story by another author and explore the craft. Elizabeth read Lucia Berlin’s ‘The Jockey,’ while Damien read Janet Frame’s ‘This Is My Last Story.’ Elizabeth responded to the potential workshop criticism that Lucia’s story gave the protagonist no biographical details. Elizabeth: ‘Her voice is so full of life you know that character.’ Damien even suggested the ending (‘This is so marvelous.’) might not survive a workshop – but that it works.
In the review I did with Bill he suggested he wasn’t straitjacketed by rules. Both stories read were perfect examples of this.
Damien said he goes to Janet’s collection of stories when he feels language can’t be fresh any more and is rejuvenated. Hearing him read her story so beautifully, with such verve, made me want to scoot back home, pick up her book and get reading.
Loved hearing their own stories too, and the fact Damien had to start rewriting his!
Second standout event of the day – Tusiata Avia in scintillating conversation with Maxine Beneba Clarke.
Both writers bemoaned the way they get pigeon holed as being writers of colour. The empathy between them was infectious, the poems read utterly vital.
Tusiata talked about the way the job of the writer is to bring the unseen into the world, bringing it out of the dark places, even it is painful, even if it’s not attractive.
Maxine added that the drive to pick up the pen is affected by the need to change something and that one might not write in a utopian world.
This session was polemical, uplifting, moving – and a reminder of the power and beauty of poetry.
Third standout moments were hearing Cilla McQueen and Lynn Jenner read in the Excavations session.
Having read both books, these two readings lifted me out of festival fatigue. Highly recommend Lost and Gone way and In Slanted Light. Lynn’s refreshing approach to nonfiction, Cilla’s refreshing approach to memoir.
Fourth stand out moment
I will do a separate post on The Sarah Broom Poetry Award.
Absolute standout moment of the festival Jeanette Winterson doing Shakespeare
Standing solo on the stage Jeanette delivered an impressive monologue on Shakespeare, on why she chose The Winter’s Tale to do her cover version (The Gap of Time).
I never thought-drifted off. Nor when she read two sections from the book. Read is hardly the right word to describe her electric-electifying performance.
I walked out gobsmacked. Speechless. It was like she was feeling Shakespeare with every twitch, every lift and rush of word, every pore of skin. She felt it, so I felt it.
She said we live in such a complicated world, you can’t reduce it with the karate chop of syntax. We want to expand us/the world. It is like the way, in another language, thought shrinks to the language available.
Book quote: ‘What is memory anyway but a painful dispute from the past.’
She referred to Dante’s idea that writers are putting into words things difficult to think. Jeanette adds: ‘and feelings.’
I kept bumping into people who were as blubberingly euphoric as me after this session.
Second standout session of the day Michel Faber in conversation with Paula Morris
The most poignant moment of the festival was seeing Michel’s wife Eva’s little red boots on the stage, standing in for her, this huge absence he carries on his travels.
I looked at this unbearable emptiness as he read poems from his forthcoming collection, poems that navigate her illness and death, his loss and grief.
Astonishing. And his declaration, well known, that he has written his last novel. ‘I only had this many novels in me,’ he says.
Again the tricky question of whether fiction and poetry make a difference to us came up. Michel didn’t used to think so. Now he says, ‘if a decent human being can feel something for an hour reading poetry or fiction regarding the evils of those who rule us, then it is a value, even though it doesn’t affect how things turn out. Maybe that’s enough.’
And bravo CK Stead stepping into Bill Manhire’s shoes to converse with Paul Muldoon.
A fascinating session. Hearing the poems with that Irish lilt again means reading the new collection with just the right musical inflections. The pauses were memorable. Best poetic pauses.