The dirty dishwater sky
I see a rainbow
the harbour gleaming white
the sparkling nighttime sky tower
a strange statue of Moses
an early morning cleaner
the crinkled-slept-in-sheets sky
a collective poem made up on the spot by NZ Booksellers
On Sunday I was a key-note presenter with poet Gemma Browne at the booksellers conference in Auckland. The conference theme was Creating Communities – which feels really important as both an adult and children’s author. I dedicated Wild Honey to four women: Elizabeth Caffin, my first publisher; bookseller Carole Beu who has done so much for women readers and writers through The Women’s Bookshop; Michele Leggott who has brought women’s poetry to light and has written dazzling poetry of her own; Tusiata Avia who has inspired young and older women as both a teacher and inspiring poet, and who is a dear friend.
Most of my time as a writer is private, secret, quiet, and I like it like that. It is the writing process that gives me the greatest joy as a poet – not winning prizes or being famous or getting picked for anthologies or festivals. These can all be lovely surprises that give your ego little boosts, and more importantly boost book sales, but nothing beats that moment when pen hits paper and the words start flowing and you think – Where did that come from? How did I write that?
Yet I also write in multiple communities and that is important to me. I have a number of publishing families for a start. Then there are the two communities I have created through my blogs – Poetry Box and Poetry Shelf – that are made up of diverse readers and writers. I wanted to create a go-to place for poetry because poetry was becoming less and less visible in the media. Books would be published and I wouldn’t know unless I spotted them in a bookshop or got a launch invite.
Even now it is very rare that Poetry Shelf will be included in a list of online sites, newsletters or links devoted to advancing our engagement with New Zealand books. Yet Poetry Shelf keeps poetry fans in touch with what is happening in our diverse book/writing communities, signalling the books that are released, events, opportunities. I am building up an archive of recordings, interviews, commentaries and reviews. What will happen to all this material when I can no longer care for it? It seems so fragile.
One part of me wants to switch off my computer and phone, and tuck up into a novel in the hammock – because some days I am just treading water and making no difference.
As an author I am also part of our community of booksellers and am more than happy to do events in bookshops, yes to help promote my books but also to promote NZ poetry through various initiatives. I want to start a Bookseller Spot on both my blogs where booksellers recommend a NZ book they have loved or any poetry book they have loved. Or record a poem from a NZ book they have loved. Please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
I want to build and nurture a community of poets writing for children and make it easier for readers to find children’s poetry books. Is this possible? Do we want our children’s lives to be enriched by New Zealand poetry? It is the hardest thing – to get children’s poetry published, reviewed and in prominent places in bookshops. Can we show that poetry – the liberating place of word play – is the most glorious tool for any child. The reluctant writer can juggle words in the air, the sophisticated writer can advance their skills, take up challenges, explore their engagement in a challenging world. Poetry makes a child feel warm inside and itch to read and write.
I want to build bridges and nourish sightlines between our distinctive, diverse and wide roaming poetry communities. Is this possible? Is it vital? Can we draw together in attentiveness across cities, regions, cultures, generations, styles, preoccupations, politics, poetics, voices? For example, I see Louise Wallace (The Starling) and Emma Neale (Landfall) trying to do this in diverse ways. I see Anne O’Brien working hard to do this with her team at AWF. And Claire Maby through Verb Wellington.
And there is nothing wrong with nourishing your own poetry family, your go-to community that supports and listens to and reads what you do. As VUP do with their breathtaking stable of poets, their elders and emerging voices. As do the grassroot presses, such as Seraph, Cold Hub and Compound Press. The small journals such Mimicry and Min-a-ret.
I turned up at the conference after three hours sleep (max!), a poached egg and a short black and had the loveliest conversation with Gem. We talked about poetry, Wild Honey and building communities. I felt invigorated to be in the same room as people who work so hard, imaginatively, passionately, inventively – to sell our books. These are booksellers but they are also most importantly readers.
We wrote a poem to break the ice – and now I have broken the ice I want to keep making poetry visible and making poetry connections. How do I do it? How do we do it?
If I were rich and bounding with energy I would visit every bookshop that invited me and get children and adults hooked on the joy and curiosities of poetry.
I would start up a children’s poetry press.
But I am not rich and I am not bounding with energy at the moment so I will keep thinking on my feet and inventing ways for my blogs to make connections, start conversations, and celebrate the way our book community is comprised of many communities. And keep telling myself that I am not alone. Poetry Shelf has done that!
PS At Mary Kisler‘s conference session dedicated to her fabulous book, Finding Frances Hodgkins, Nicola Legat and Sam Elworthy talked about the new initiative, Coalition for Books. Various organisations are coming together under the one umbrella to work for the collective good of authors, publishers, booksellers and festivals. And of course readers.
PPS After such an intense and wonderful month I am now back to sleeping. Thankfully. Wild Honey‘s arrival in the world had shocked me into a constant state of awakeness.