Hera Lindsay Bird (winner of Best First Book of Poetry at the Ockham NZ Book Awards and winner of the Sarah Broom Poetry Award 2017)
I am currently writing a book on New Zealand women’s poetry which means I have spent the past year exploring the way women have come into their own on the poetry stage. The Old Guard and the New Guard session featured Hera Lindsay Bird and Bill Manhire in conversation with chair, Andrew Johnston. Hera and Bill decided the labels were fluid as indeed they are. I loved that!
I wrote a swag of notes based on Bill’s conversation and readings and scarcely anything on Hera because for some inexplicable reason she was sidelined on stage. She got to talk about the fizzing international reaction to a couple of her provocative poems and to read one of them (after saying these poems were her least favourites in the book). Bill was invited to read several. Hera did not get a chance to read another poem (until I invited her to do so in question time) or to talk about the way her book offers so much more to the reader. The quirkiness, the sharp surreal detail, the blurred borders, the fluency, the sense of confession that may be grainy truth mixed with grainy lies. The exuberant joy in language. The electric switches and dovetails as the poem moves. It felt like Hera had 20% of talk time but maybe that was not quite accurate. There was scant if not zero engagement with what her poetry is doing beyond the shock factor. The audience would have had difficulty taking away diverse entry points into her poetry after this event.
The session felt like a step back in time where if a woman speaks it is claimed she is dominating.
I don’t know why this happened but in my view there is no excuse because it appeared to be downright sexist. There are of course countless other possible reasons. Gender issues aside – panelists need equal time in the spotlight and a wide-ranging engagement with what they do.
I loved what Bill had to say and I plan on sharing that at a later date.